on bright dreams
— Mildred Morganstern
I started studying with Leonard Rose in January of 1957. One week after my first lesson, I attended a recital that he gave at Washington Irving High School. Although this concert was part of an important concert series, the ticket prices were so low that even young students, like me, would have no problem paying.
I was totally excited to hear my new teacher play a program of great cello classics. He played the third Bach Suite, which I already knew, and he played it in a grand manner that was new to me. He played the Beethoven D Major Sonata, which was new to me, and at the end of the program, he played the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations. I had never heard the Rococo Variations and did not know that such a piece could even exist. He played the theme with unbelievable elegance and beauty, and each variation brought me into a world of magic, where, if I were religious, I would say that I saw the face of God. That experience has remained with me absolutely unchanged, and it has guided me through my life. It was not only that Mr. Rose’s playing was so great; it was the effect of Rose and Tchaikovsky coming together in an almost blinding beauty. From that moment on, it was my dream to be able to create music on that level of spirituality and panache. It epitomized my favorite quotation by Alfred Brendel: “Playing of genius is when the music is at the same time correct and bold. The correctness says this is the way it must be, but the boldness surprises and overwhelms us with the way that it can be. What we thought was impossible becomes true.”
Many times in my life, dust settled on many bright dreams, but the dust cloth of Leonard Rose’s Rococo Variations wiped it away, and compelled me to move positively forward, relentlessly trying to reach that unattainable goal.
I was very fortunate to be entrusted with the great cello solos in the operatic and ballet repertoire, and to be able to play them at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York and the Civic Opera House in Chicago. I often asked myself, “If Leonard Rose were sitting in this chair playing this solo, how would he do it?” I was willing to do whatever it took to make a serious attempt.
Leonard Rose imparted a considerable amount of wisdom to me during my studies with him. He told me that nobody can absolutely guarantee that any performance will go the way you want it to, but there are many things that you can do to put the odds in your favor. He told me to figure out what I want to do and how I’m going to do it, and always spend half my practice time every day working on technical issues like long tones, scales, double stops, and etudes, that will underpin the execution of any solo. He also advised me to always maintain the most challenging pieces in the repertoire that present difficulties involving beauty of sound, logical phrasing, and total fluency. His list included the Schumann Concerto, the Schubert “Arpeggione” Sonata, the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations, and Italian sonatas by Boccherini, Locatelli, and Valentini.
I have no idea how I would have played if I had not adhered to these pieces of advice. I suppose I would have been able to maintain a high level of execution because I played many, many solos in the course of a year, but I was unwilling to give up Leonard Rose’s advice or my picture of his playing. In order to do this I regimented my life so I could be at my best at 8 p.m. no matter what. And it didn’t matter to me whether I was playing the solo from Swan Lake or a full recital. I just did the routine. Period.
Mr. Rose came to Chicago in 1972 to perform with the Chicago Symphony. I was not able to attend because I had a performance of Pelléas et Mélisande on the night of their performance. Fortunately I was friends with the personnel manager, and he let me into Orchestra Hall to hear the rehearsal of the Dvorak Concerto. I was the only person in the audience, and Mr. Rose was totally relaxed and eager to show me what he could do. Well, he peeled the paint off the walls, and I never heard playing like that again.
I no longer perform, but I still find joy every day in my memories of Leonard Rose’s playing and the wonderful effect it had on my own.